Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Farewell Bishop Cledan

I went to Christchurch Radyr this morning to celebrate their midweek Eucharist, for half a dozen, as Jenny is on holiday. So too half the regulars of this congregation. After the service we sat in the side chapel, drank fresh coffee and chatted for half an hour before I returned home. After an early lunch I set out for town, and Eglwys Dewi Sant to attend the funeral of Bishop Cledan Mears, who had been one of my teachers what I was at St Michaels forty five years ago.

There was quite a full church, many of those present were clerics, retired or active, as well as Dewi Sant members. Cledan had been a regular worshipper here in his latter years, being a fervent enthusiast for the bi-lingual identity and character of the Church in Wales. Indeed, the prayers were in English and Welsh, and Archbishop Barry spoke the first half of his eulogy in Welsh and then concluded in English, making reference to this fact. At Dewi Sant normally, everything is entirely in Welsh, but this was an exceptional occasion, honouring an exceptional man.

I met up and chatted with Hywel Davies before and after the service. He's recently obtained his Permission to Officiate for the diocese in Europe, almost two years after he set out to do this after paying me a visit and ministering for a weekend in the Costa Azahar chaplaincy where I was doing locum duty. Knowing of the challenging number of vacancies in the Spanish archdeaconry at the moment I urged him to get in touch with churchwarden Bill in Fuengirola, whom I knew to be hunting for cover over the Christmas period this year, since I can't be there. 

If all works out well, he will come and replace me from November until January. I'd already agreed to curtail my stay until the end of October to allow this period to be properly covered by someone else. No sooner had I discussed this last week, than the church warden of the Costa Azahar chaplaincy contacted me with a cry for help to cover November and December locum duties. I explained I could only do until 21st December, but he was keen to accept this much, as it would allow time for him to look for someone to cover Christmas and New Year. So it looks like Hywel will get his first Europe locum experience, and I will get a return visit to Costa Azahar, which I'd been thinking I'd like to return to one of these days to see how they have been coping for yet another year without a full time priest around.

For quite a different reason I'm glad of this opportunity. I'll get a chance to re-visit the Delta del'Ebre during late autumn, at the time when mass bird migrations from northern Europe to Africa are happening. Wonderful things to see on days off work!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Three clerics, three Blackbirds

I drove out to Llantarnam near Cwmbran today, for lunch at the Three Blackbirds pub with Rufus and Phil, two students who were in my last tutor group at St Mike's. It was an opportunity for the three of us to catch up with each other since Phil was ordained deacon and Rufus priested just a month ago in St Woolos Cathedral. 
I found them in good spirits, but was amazed to hear how heavy their work loads were in their different social contexts. It's summer, and team colleagues are rightly taking time for holidays now there's someone who can cover some of their duties, but it's more than that. It's the sheer volume and variety of work to be done in larger population areas covered by fewer clergy. Nowadays nobody remains inexperienced for long.

There wasn't much time to linger over lunch. One had a funeral to take at three, the other a Eucharist to celebrate. I drove home, parked the car, and then went into the office for several hours, where there's always tasks to be completed, but fortunately at a pace we have some control over for the most part. There are urgent things to do and occasional hard deadlines, but lots of things that can be picked up and dropped ad libitum - and funnily enough, things do get done, eventually. And that's congenial.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Catching up on ourselves

Saturday was every kind of catch up day - blog writing, photo uploading, sermon preparation for the morrow, ringing my eldest sister to talk about next Friday's funeral, and an hour in the office into the bargain. The one bargain I was tempted by in last week's John Lewis sale had been snapped up by someone else, but I'm not bothered. I did by a new 8GB memory card for my Sony HX50, as the one I had from new back in mid February is now full with 1440 photos. No all the originals are worthy of long term storage, but sorting and weeding them in detail is such a painstaking hassle, as looking through them makes me stop and remember things. A new card as such low prices these days is a quick 'n dirty time saver.

I was up early this morning, celebrating the eight o'clock at St Catherine's. I was entrusted with keys to open up, as nobody is willing to take responsibility for getting up early to do the care-taking when they themselves want to go to a later service and have jobs to do beforehand. I got in and opened up OK but couldn't get the lights to work, as there was a master switch I didn't know about, but one of the three members of the congregation discovered the switch and we were spared morning Mass by candlelight. St Catherine's has quite a dark interior. There were thirty again at the 10.30 service and afterwards I bought some courgettes and blackberries from the church garden to add to the good fare which Clare brought home from Riverside Farmers Market after church.

Travel tiredness hit us both after lunch, so we dispensed ourselves from doing anything apart from recovering for the rest of the day, relaxing in summer heat that makes Cardiff feel more like Malaga than Cardiff generally does.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Not quite a smooth homecoming

We were up and breakfasting by seven thirty, in time for the 8.33 inter city DB train to Dusseldorf Airport. All proceeded smoothly with our British Airways flight on a smaller aircraft than the one on our outward journey, until we reached London airspace, where we told there would be landing delay due to a torrential downpour putting the usual landing sequence temporarily on hold. We cruised around through bumpy clouds for twenty minutes or so before being permitted to descend without  incident.

We'd booked on a four thirty bus to Cardiff, but even a briefly delayed arrival left the prospect of a two hour wait. Due to the rain, buses were all arriving late and we'd seen the M4 congested on the landing approach. The two o'clock coach to Cardiff hadn't yet arrived, we heard, so we re-booked on that coach, as there were spaces, in the hope of getting home earlier. It was an hour and half late, so our coach arrived back in Cardiff only half an hour earlier than we might otherwise have done. We missed lunch, not wanting the stray for from the bus stop as the rebooked coach was supposed to be arriving "any time now". 

Despite the potential for offering real time updates to passengers using GPS tracking and social media, National Express still keeps its passengers and dispatch crew a bit in the dark. It's an excellent service, nevertheless, apart from chilly and entirely un-necessary air conditioning in use when most passengers are in summer dress. Forced air at 20C feels like 14C if you're stuck in your seat and can't move around. You can ask the driver to raise the temperature, but aren't supposed to speak to him when the coach is on the move!

We were home by nine, and cooking a curry, fourteen hours after saying auf Wiedersehen to our friends Connie and Udo. It was great to spend time with them, and I certainly appreciated being back in Germany for the first time since re-unification. How could it be so long!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

In the tracks of the Johannesritter

After two intensive days of sightseeing we both felt the need to do something more relaxed. First we went back into Herford for minor shopping and a look at the local Roman Catholic Church of St John the Baptist, built in 1715 on a site owned by the old Knights Hospitallers Order of St John of Jerusalem, the Johannesritter, with which St John Cymru-Wales has links. The presbytery is apparently the oldest stone building in Herford.

On an adjacent exterior wall there was a plaque commemorating the stay in Herford of several communities of people displaced by war from further East in Europe, erected by them thirty years later in appreciation of hospitality received. Connie remarked that it was uncommon when it came to the treatment of ausländer. On reflection, it occurred to me that her Catholic schooling may not have extended to learning about the practical values espoused by Johannesritter spiritual traditon. The same would be true here in Britain.

On our way back for lunch, we called into a very well stocked local Bio supermarket located in a mid nineteenth century farm building, selling every imaginable kind of organic product, including beers. We had a coffee, and then while Clare and Connie treated themselves to a half hour's organic retail therapy, I sat outside and savoured an organic Pils in the shade and watched the Hausfrauen come and go with their shopping baskets.

Connie spent the afternoon baking, and her mother came around for tea and waffles topped with raspberries in yoghourt enhanced by whipped cream. Delicious. It didn't seem long before we were eating supper, blessed by the fruits of the shopping expedition earlier, then drinking and talking until after dark. Time flies when you're in good company.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Two facets of historic German culture

After breakfast we set out with Connie and Udo to visit Lippeland, first driving to the town of Detmold and then to the Herrmansdenkmal (Herrman Monument) 55 metres high, standing on a prominent ridge in the forest overlooking the Rhine-Westfalen plain, a vivid green and gold patchwork as far as the eye could see in every direction.

The monument was constructed in 1875, celebrating the growth of German national identity under Kaiser Wilhelm I. It made me think of the American statue of Liberty. Hermann was a german warlord of the first century, educated and trained for local military governance by the Roman empire. He fought a successful independence campaign and gained status as a nationalist icon in the nineteenth century.

There's a ridgeway walk through the forest running for a hundred kilometres or so, and the memorial site is popular local tourist destination, not least for treetop walks and visits to a collection of tall standstone rock stacks, each of which can be climbed for the view, in safety by flights of steps. We settled for climbing up 30 metres to the viewing platform beneath the monument's statue, admission €7. During the recent restoration work on the monument, a shine steel plated ticket controlled automatic turnstile was installed. Two paces beyond the original manned ticket booth, empty and redundant remains a sign of the times.
We drove on from the monument to Detmold's Museum of Rural History and Culture, Lippeland's equivalent to St Fagans Museum of Welsh life, and it's the largest of its kind in Germany with a hundred buildings. The domain is on an open hill side whose fields are still farmed. Buildings from all over the region have been re-erected here, including two windmills, two chapels, one with with a schoolroom attached, a petrol station of 1930 design. The houses are mainly grouped as in a village. Larger properties have well tended gardens interestingly laid out to illustrate local domestic and decorative custom.
Most of the buildings are timber framed, some with lime washed wattle and daub walls, others with brickwork exteriors, occasionally there were thatched roofs, but most were red  tiled, standing out in a landscape of gold and green. Huge farmhouses shelter both people and animals in spacious and well laid out enclosures. One of them accommodates the horses which pull a tourist wagon around the estate, others house handcraft workshops, one a restaurant offering local specialities where we had lunch.

Two exhibits I found most moving. One was the eighteenth century house of a Jewish tradesman whose last occupants had been taken to a concentration camp, never to return. Few rooms were furnished, empty rooms told the family story in a sparse way. Whether this is a work in progress or kept deliberately minimal is hard to say, but it speaks of a deeply disturbing history,never far from being repeated somewhere in today's world with a different set of victims.

The other exhibit was a Parish poor-house for women, with  small rooms and sparse white washed interior. Although three centuries old, the names of only 38 of a great number of anonymous inhabitants were on record, printed on banners hung from the ceiling in one room. Another room contained two symbolic bare wooden chairs in the bare parlour, where the pastor and friends visited down the years. The kitchen  had a table and chairs for eight occupants.
One room alone was furnished with bed, table and chair. On the bed were laid out the few clothes belonging to a typical inhabitant, and on a glazed panel barring the entrance was inscribed a copy of the ledger account of the costs of the person's occupancy. Coldly clean and decent was the best that poor, vulnerable or sick people could expect at the end of their lives. For women at the end of a life as home makers, it meant ultimate shame.
After such an active day, we were too tied to contemplate preparing a meal and we headed out for a pils and a pizza at a country Gästhof restaurant, and stayed until the sun went down. A day rich in impressions of rural beauty and domesticity, filled with pride and respect for the many good things of the past, which the world can still appreciate.

Photos of our day's outing can be seen here

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Sightseeing in Herford

We woke up to a blue sky and breakfasted on the terrace before driving into Herford for sightseeing.  As we arrived in the main Parkhaus, below us on the main road stood a building in remarkable contrast to the town centre's older traditional environment - a new art gallery and cultural centre whose architect was the American Frank Gehry, who also designed the Guggenheim Art Museum in Bilbao, which I visited with my sister June a couple of years ago.
There's been a settlement here since the ninth century, where two rivers meet before flowing on to the Rhine. As a place of trade, it was a member of the Hanseatic league, signifying its position in the commerce of central Europe. It has some fine mediaeval churches and several streets of mercantile houses dating back to the sixteenth century. Some of its ancient buildings were lost either to the war, or to redevelopment, but many are conserved, adapted and well maintained for modern use. It once had a town wall with five gates, but only a few traces remain.
We walked for ages, had a coffee, walked some more, visited two Lutheran parish churches - the imposing Münster next to the Rathaus, once a prestigious Abbey of Canonesses Regular.
Also St John the Baptist, both spacious, beautifully decorated and open to visitors all day. They are so like grand town churches of the Anglican variety back home, products not only of the sixteenth century reformation but also of 20th century reforms in liturgy and pastoral care.
It was hot in the afternoon, so we went back home for lunch and a siesta which lasted into the evening as travel tiredness caught up with us. After supper we went for a long walk along country lanes and through huge wheat and corn fields, enjoying the cooler evening and the beauty of the setting sun.
Outside Herford there are small suburban housing estates, a few small factories and secluded individual homes set amongst trees and hedges in the landscape. Old farmhouses in the area are still well used and occupied, many are over two hundred years old, with ornate facades to the main portal, decorated with figures and scriptural blessings. The region is mainly Lutheran but domestic cultural tradition embraces both Catholic and Protestant, and even where the Reformed church tradition of Calvin and Zwingi prevailed in the old Principality of Lippeland to the south of Herford. You can see photos of the town here.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Smooth journey and sad news

We were up and breakfasting a five, and a taxi called for us at half past to take us to the bus station for our six o'clock coach to Heathrow Terminal five. We'd anticipated crowds and long queues by taking only hand luggage for a four day stay and checking in on line. The security screening was state of the art and swift, so within a quarter an hour of arrival we were window shopping in the Departures hall, with a hour to spare before the departure gate was announced.

We'd expected additional delays not only because of the holiday crowds, but because of the American insistence in presenting only charged mobile devices and laptops, for fear that a bomb might impersonate a battery. This doesn't apply the European flights however, and the scanning of phones and laptops required no extra jumping through hoops. Maybe scanners here allow operators to tell the difference between a battery, live or dead, and a fake suspicious device or half kilo of drugs. It's bound to be different if you're flying to the USA and are obliged to stick to their rules if you want to land at all.

I noticed seating installations with charging points and wi-fi hotspots in the entrance hall. A most considerate service. Here, unsecured airport wi-fi is available for free for up to fortyfive minutes, no sign-in necessary, so very quick and easy to use and access, much to my surprise. It was very useful to be able to clear my in-box of Monday messages before leaving. Technology as it can be and rarely is in reality. I imagine that this service with little wait time has reduced complaints immensely.

Our British Airways Flight to Dusseldorf, one of three during the day, was on time and full. We were served a free coffee, and in just over an hour we were touching down, in a grey overcast Rhineland. The airport's three terminals and parking are linked by Skytrain, an overhead pilotless monorail. The deposited us at the airport station and after a brief wait we were speeding north in a very crowded double decker Deutsche Bahn train, to the Ost Westfalia town of Herford.

We had to stand for the first quarter of the journey, but after Dusiberg and Essen more got off than go on and we found seats together in a small compartment, with a woman our age sitting opposite, a retired teacher to whom we chatted in a mixure of German and English for the rest of the journey. She was a Christian, married to a Nigerian, active in her time, Minden, the train's destination, in international social encounter and cross cultural community gardening. It made the two hour train trip speed by. I was surprised to discover I had no difficulty in speaking German to her. Even though my command of language is limited, and haven't used it much in twenty years, I seem to have retained enough to make myself understood.

Connie and Udo were waiting for us in Herford station. We last met seven years ago at Connie's graduation ceremony in St David's Hall Cardiff. We've been promising to visit Herford ever since Connie returned there 23 years ago from her two years of Friedensdienst volunteer service with the unemployed in Halesowen, where I was then Team Rector. Connie stayed with us in our vast six bedroomed parsonage. 

Udo, her partner since those days, is a precision engineer, who now runs his own machine component fabrication business employing half a dozen people. Sophisticated small to medium sized precision engineering manufacture has long been a strength of the German economy, now struggling against far Eastern competition, yet striving to rise to the challenge to hold its own and make quality count.

I surprised to discover that their house is several kilometres out of town in this rich and beautiful agricultural region of woodland and rolling fields of ripening grain. Udo, with the help of friends built the house himself from prefabricated units, on top of a large basement slightly submerged foundation they'd constructed - large enough to accommodate the two of them in fact - Udo's mother lived in a separate apartment above when she was alive, and it was where we stayed. 

It was warm enough sit out on the garden terrace and eat supper. The variety of birdsong in a nearby coppice of trees was amazing in its diversity, likewise the species of bees butterflies busying themselves with the flowers in the surrounding garden. To crown it all, a hare ran up one side of a long lawn before disappearing into the leylanda hedge thirty feet from us. Sadly I had no camera to hand. What a memorable welcome!

Just after we arrived, my nephew Julian rang to say that brother-in-law Geoff had died earlier in the afternoon. His last year of life has been tough for him and for my sister, as he became increasingly infirm, but our memories of him will remain as a larger than life person, full of enthusiasm and interests and full of music, still playing the saxophone until well into his eighties.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Duties close to home

Back on duty again this morning, this time celebrating the ten thirty Eucharist at St Catherine's our local Parish Church, filling in over the next month while our parish priests and families take their holidays. Many church members are also away with their families at this time, so there was no Sunday school, but there were still three dozen in the congregation. 

Afterwards while we socialised over a cup of coffee in the church hall, we bought some french beans, grown in the church's own community vegetable garden an excellent enterprise that has developed over the past couple of years, making use of some of the open space in a churchyard that has never been used for burials. It's just an open enclosure of lawn with fine mature shady trees, perfect for summer social events and for involving gardening enthusiasts with not much room at home.

Before setting out for church I rang my sister Pauline, who told me that her husband Geoff is dying, and not expected to live more than a couple of days. Her children were there with her, Julian from Dubai and Nicky from Guildord. She asked if I'd be willing to do the funeral. Their own Parish Church in the village of Bleadon Hill near Weston-super-Mare is now part of a rural grouping which no longer has a resident priest of its own. It's difficult to minister when you just want to be part of the group of mourners being ministered to, but I couldn't refuse her request. I've known Geoff for sixty five years, as I was a page boy at their wedding when I four years old.

We spent the rest of the day preparing and packing, ready for an early start on a six o'clock coach for Heathrow for a midday flight to Dusseldorf, and our third summer holiday adventure.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Digesting the Mysteries

At last a quiet day at home relaxing, starting with a lazy breakfast of delicious fresh pancakes. For me, a day not only to write a sermon for tomorrow but also catch up on uploading to my Picasa website the photos of last Sunday's outing to the York Wagon Mystery plays. You can see the albums created here.

I took nearly four hundred, so editing out the poor ones, then organising them into easy access albums, adding minimal captions and getting them into sequence took many hours out of the day. I found none of my three cameras to be in precise date/time sync with each other. Images from different cameras of the same action sequence need rearrangement before display to avoid jerky confusion. Ah well, next time..

It was good to spend time recalling through these images the sequence of bible stories told and realise just how much was packed into the dozen dramatic productions. It was powerful at the visual level, but hearing ancient spoken texts in a variety of north country accents was what lifted it out of the ordinary for me. 

I'm still digesting the experiences I had during the Andalusian Semana Santa, built around static artistic images that live at the heart of each parochial community they belong to. Their regional passion plays I didn't have opportunity to find out about or attend, although English people spoke highly of them. York's tradition is similarly both civic and religious in nature and continues to give life to ancient texts and ideas about the life and death of Christ in ways relating to the present day in a characteristically British way, mixing humour and seriousness, speculation, argument and evangelistic appeal. 

For a culture such as ours still so in love with verbal discourse and semantics, the living tradition of the York Mysteries is as much a masterpiece as the dramatic tableaux of southern Spain. What a thrill to encounter both traditions so vividly within three months of each other.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Double celebration

More driving on M4 this last few days. Another late afternooon trip to Chepstow to our radio suppliers today. Over to Bristol yesterday to meet the medical team caring for Amanda in Southmead hospital. It was also an occasion to celebrate James' eighteenth birthday with her, as it fell on Wednesday this week. Clare brought a cake to share with eighteen golden candles on it, but we weren't allowed to light them in Amanda's room for him to blow out. The sensitivity of the smoke alarm over the bed would have triggered a Health and Safety crisis.

Owain came and joined us at the hospital. He'd come over for a job interview. Clare arrived by train at Filton Abbey Wood, the nearest station and Owain met her there so I could pick up both and ferry them to the hospital. When I arrived, Owain was on his phone, grinning from ear to ear. He'd just received the first job offer he couldn't refuse in nine months of unemployment! 

In that period, he applied for scores of jobs and on average got two interviews a month, many of them second interviews. An endless succession of disappointments, but also a learning experience through which he developed his interview skills and just as importantly his discipline of applying himself to consider each new project that's been at the heart of the job applied for. He'll be working for a law firm, and that's something of a surprise for him, with all sorts of interesting new discoveries ahead of him.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

'Tad' Mears - in memoriam

An email arrived today from Archbishop Barry  announcing the death of Bishop Cledan Mears in his nineties. When I was at St Michael's College training for ministry forty five years ago, he taught Christian doctrine and New Testament, and was one of the native Welsh speakers on the staff supporting other first language Welsh speakers through their training, in the days before encouragement to learn the language of heaven became an active part of implementing the bi-lingual policy of the Church in Wales. He went on to become Vicar of Eglyws Dewi Sant in Cardiff, a church that has seen several of its incumbents elected as Welsh Bishops, and eventually was elected Bishop of Bangor.

Whilst during the war, Canon Geoffrey Rees, St Mike's principal in my time, had been an army chaplain decorated with the Military Cross, Cledan out of his strong evangelical conviction was a conscientious objector serving as a stretcher bearer. Exemplary courage was required of both. Students were vaguely aware of this, but war and peace didn't get much discussion time compared with the liberalisation of attitudes to sexuality and sexual behaviour in those days. I wonder if both ever wondered if this new wave of freedom was really what they had been courageous to struggle for? 

What I recall with gratitude was the way Cledan relished working with the Greek New Testament texts which were still a requirement of the syllabus in those days. His fire of enthusiasm for the Gospels rubbed off on me, and his sense of the authenticity and credibility of scripture for both the learned and unlettered was crucial. His evangelical convictions were deeply rooted in Welsh language spiritual tradition, his dissent expressed on the military rather than the religious front.  

He was regarded as suspect by the liberals and anglo-catholics who made the majority in College at that time because of his un-typical Welsh churchmanship. I was profoundly influenced by anglo-catholic, Orthodox and Vatican II Roman Catholic spirituality at this time when all churches were re-awakening to the challenge of interpreting and applying scripture to their mid-twentieth century post holocaust, nuclear age setting. But for me it was Cledan who made the study of scripture exciting, an adventure, and that sense of thrill engaging with scripture is still with me, driving me to continue preaching and ministering as a pastor wherever and whenever I can.

This generation of the church has lost an elder brother whose kind regard for us as students was reassuring and gentle. He was someone who'd rather look you in the eye, than be looked up to, and for a religious institution often obsessed with status and achievements, this was a truly evangelical witness to faith in Christ.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Graduation Day in Carlisle

Anneke's degree graduation ceremony was scheduled for midday. We met up with Eddie and Ann outside the Cathedral at ten thirty, and then joined the queue to enter Carlisle Cathedral, while participants of the previous degree congregation made their joyful exit.

Carlisle Cathedral was established as an Augustinian Priory in the eleventh century and became a Cathedral church in the twelfth. Two thirds of the modestly sized (for a Cathedral) building is taken up by the monastic choir, with a huge East window and high decorative ceiling. The nave is disproportionately small, reflecting the building's history as a collegiate institution. It's constructed of the old red sandstone characteristic of the region.

The degree congregation was an occasion designed to impress and promote the activities and achievements of the University of Cumbria relevent to public life and service. Baroness Cox was made an honorary fellow and gave an inspirational address in response to the Chancellor's account of her history of humanitarian service and advocacy. After the ceremony we went to the Crown and Mitre hotel nearby where we partook of a festive drink and nibble together with the new graduates.

Then, it was time for me to take my leave and drive home, a three hundred mile trip back to Cardiff. Clare stayed behind to spend a night with Anneke, Eddie and Ann. Thankfully, the weather was good and the drive easy, apart from the usual congestion in the Midlands. Over seven hundred miles in the past five days - something of an achievement, more than I've driven in a short period for many years.

Monday, 14 July 2014


We said goodbye to Andrea and left Scarborough early Monday morning and started our 150 mile journey to  Carlisle for tomorrow's University of Cumbria graduation ceremony at which our niece Anneke will receive her degree after seven years of part time study. Our journey took us at a leisurely pace across country through Wensleydale, on the route where recently the Tour de France passed, leaving villages still bedecked with yellow bunting and painted bicycles.  The countryside is beautiful and reminiscent of the Welsh border land in Powys. The story of the community's reclamation and promotion of the valley's cheesemaking tradition in the late 20th century is one of justifiable pride.

We stopped for lunch in Hawes at the splendid Wensleydale Cheese visitor centre, and came away with a selection of cheeses for gifts to take with us when we go to Germany to see Connie and Udo next week. The weather broke as we arrived at the M6 motorway for the last fifty mile leg of the journey through the Lake District, completed mostly in driving rain and mist. We arrived at our B&B at Eastview Guest House close to Carlisle town centre at tea-time and went on a reconnaissance trip to locate the Cathedral in the central business district, before dining out in an Italian restaurant close to where we were to stay the night. We were given a quiet spacious attic bedroom with a comfortable bed and bathroom, a great place to rest after a challenging journey across the Pennines.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

York Mystery Plays 2014

As most of our Sunday was to be taken up with visiting York for the Mystery Plays, an eight o'clock Communion service would have been a desirable start to the day, but alas, there was no celebration available on this particular Sunday within easy reach of Andrea's apartment. After breakfast we set out on the hour's journey across the Wolds to one of Britain's most ancient and historic cities. At this time of year, fields in the rolling landscape are greenish turning gold at different rates, as grain crops ripen at different rates. The summer colours reminded me of the rice fields of the Delta del'Ebre.

We used York's efficient park and ride service to access the city centre with ease, arriving just after eleven to permit Andrea to check in and acquire her steward's jacket before we made our way to College Street, located at the East end of the Minster, for her to take up her duties as welcomer and programme distributor. My heart was still set on finding somewhere to join in the worship of the day, so I went for a stroll around the Minster perimeter, to find our what might be going on. 

St Michael's le Belfrey, on the South Western corner of the Minster was packed with people singing to a pop band from lyrics projected on a screen, and nearby the sounds of the mighty organ could be heard as it accompanied Morning Prayer. I walked on, and spotted St Wilfred's Catholic church two hundred yards across the road from these two, and walked over to check out the Mass times. The eleven o'clock service has just reached the offertory, so I stood with latecomers in the narthex and 'heard Mass', as folks would say in the old days. 

For me, it was a far from ordinary 'hearing', as the Mass text was from the new unpopular latinised English translation, but beggars can't be choosers. As far as I'm concerned the Lord's Service on the Lord's Day, no matter what the format, is the pivotal act of remembering together with others who Christ is and what He did for us, wherever I find myself. It's a small act of solidarity, even if Communion is not possible. 

In St Wilfred's, the Sunday Mass leaflet was available to enable me to read the familiar texts of the day before I returned to join Clare and Andrea. The procession of Passion Plays had only just begun at noon with the first recounting of the creation of the world at the first Mystery play wagon stop on the green at the north side of the Minster. I stopped, watched and photographed the first two plays, and then returned to College Street, where I stayed for the rest of the afternoon, seeing again the performance of the creation and fall stories and the ten others, right through to the Last Judgement that followed over the next five hours.

The entire event offered a moving experience of biblical story telling, using poetically rich ancient texts, stimulating to hear, challenging in the way they interpret traditional Christian teaching. Each Guild presenting a play produces it within the limitations of the wagon staging format, and yet is free to set the play in whatever context it chooses. Much community effort goes into interpreting the meaning and value of texts that reflect scripture and how it has been interpreted down the centuries. This makes the Mystery Plays a truly lively means of presenting the Gospel in an evangelistic way that offers a contemporary audience plenty to think about.

We had no time for sightseeing in York. The Mystery Plays absorbed all our time and attention. I took nearly four hundred photographs in an effort to capture something of the occasion. There's such a lot to see that another visit to York and Yorkshire generally, sometime next year is definitely something we'll be planning soon.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Scarborough in the mist

Early this morning mist rolled in from the North Sea and enveloped Scarborough for much of the day.
Fortunately the air temperature was fairly mild, making it good for walking. First we visited the cliffside gardens directly below the road where Andrea lives. There's an Italian design garden which is celebrating its centenary this year, having been finished for the holiday season just before the First World War broke out.
It's been restored to former glory after years of municipal neglect by local enthusiastic garden loving volunteers, and its history properly researched. On this weekend several of them turned out early and stayed all day with a history exhibition, welcoming visitors.

We then walked along through the gardens into the town centre, and had lunch in the town's covered market cafe. The building itself is a huge unappealing rectangular barn of a place, but boasts vaulted cellars underneath, which have been transformed into small retail spaces, almost all of which are full, offering a variety of specialised services, crafts, toys, picture framing,  IT, hairdressing etc, dozens of them, a haven for dozens of small businesses.
The town itself has many small shops and independent retailers in addition to the major retail chains. It has preserved a high level of diversity, often absent from towns and cities further south.

We then walked on up on to the peninsular ridge that divides Scarborough's south bay from the north. The ancient castle and the twelfth century Parish church are on top of this, with Anna Bronte's grave in the adjacent churchyard.
Some of the oldest streets in Scarborough run down its south slope to the harbour. There was a wedding going on in the church, so we weren't able to look around. The castle higher up was completely enveloped in cloud, and unable to offer any interesting views in any direction, so we walked down to the harbour through almost deserted streets, and were surprised to see bustling crowds of holidaymakers filling the promenade and sitting on the beach despite being enveloped in a blanket of sea fog. Quite a surreal picture.
It being the first weekend of family summer holidays for many would, I imagine, strengthen determination to get on the beach and stay there no matter what the weather conditions. If this were the Costa del Sol, the beach would be deserted!

Friday, 11 July 2014

Journeys, frustrating and fulfilling

Yesterday, a drive to Chepstow again to visit our suppliers and pick up supplies of radio accessories a sixty mile round trip, which ended in a half hour dawdle from Roath to the office. There was one piece of unfinished business that needed to be completed, print and post a letter emailed earlier in the day. At the time, I didn't know our regular office crew weren't there, and only discovered when we were on our way down the M4. We timed the visit to return and complete the job, but were defeated by rush hour traffic in the city centre. 

With our day-time office closed for the night, there should have been no problem retrieving and printing at our night operations centre. However, the printer there had died and needed replacing. No problem, a quick trip to the John Lewis summer sale provided us with a modestly priced HP inkjet we could install and print from easily. However, the quick purchase turned into a slow purchase as it took an extra half hour to obtain a correctly addressed VAT invoice. Meanwhile, I left with the goods, and had the letter printed off by the time Ashley returned. I was two hours later than expected returning for supper, and with packing to be completed for our second holiday road trip, this was the last thing I needed.

Today, a drive across Britain, east and north, two  hundred and seventy miles to Scarborough to stay the weekend with Andrea and go with her to the York Mystery Plays on Sunday. She's a Freeman of the City and member of the Freemen's Guild, one of  those assigned with producing one of the plays in collaboration with other volunteers from around the city. She volunteers as a steward giving out leaflets at one of four sites at which a dozen playlets are performed, using a four wheeled flat bed wagon on which a stage set is mounted. Fifty years ago, Clare studied these Mystery Plays as part of the drama component of her University degree, and this will be the first time ever to see a selection of them (there are forty odd mediaeval texts to choose from), played live.

Being the first Friday in the school holidays, the roads were somewhat busy, but there were no major delays. The weather was kind, and the journey with stops took us six hours, and ended with a warm welcome from Andrea and a relaxing evening meal in her apartment, overlooking the sea. A happy reunion, and an enthusiasm shared for this original and special form of theatre.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

A milestone for St Michael's

Last night I attended a farewell dinner for Peter Sedgwick, stepping down from heading St Michael's College on reaching retirement age, after ten years of outstanding service to the Church in Wales, in which the fortunes of the College have been turned around from teetering on the edge of insolvency to being a cutting edge international as well as local higher educational and training institution. A few months ago the residential ministerial training programme was threatened with closure by a revue of its work which concluded for spurious reasons that there is no place for indigenous training, as there are several excellent training institutions in England meeting given need. 

This caused much anguish for a College team under Peter's leadership which foresaw the need to redevelop its training offer and responded to changing circumstances in the most innovative way over the past couple of years. The new developments have been well received, and there are more exciting prospects for ecumenical and international engagements, with Vice-Principal, now acting Principal Fr Mark Clavier taking over the baton from Peter. Best of all the doom saying report served to unite the Church in Wales in protest and resistance to the thought of losing a programme of ministry training rooted in the bi-lingualism of the Province. That's an element CofE colleges cannot reproduce in any kind of depth.

In the last weeks of Peter's ministry, announcement of the lifting of the threat of closure was made, a truly happy and fruitful conclusion to ten remarkable years of work, since in a way the map Peter made with his colleagues into the future is already being followed.. The banquet was excellent, and lifted into a happy celebration by this good news. After a term of writing in Durham University, Peter will return to live in the Vicarage of 'the Res' in Ely, where Jan his wife is incumbent. He's certainly no stranger to the Parish already, and they'll be happy to have him share in their life as a community.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

On the mend

I had my second acupuncture treatment session today, and was delighted to be able to report a marked improvement over the week since my previous treatment - far less catarrh and non-stop coughing to cope with it, and as an unexpected bonus, the clearing up of a problem I've had with tear fluid in my eyes that's viscous and makes vision blurry until it's blinked away. I have a degree of clarity which I thought I had lost, and put down to the onset of old age. Quite a surprise really. Treatment restores imbalances in the body, and my energy levels are as good as I'm accustomed to after many months of feeling debilitated by catarrh and coughing. I've had quite a lot of driving to do recently, and more to come. It's good to come home and not feel so tired after a spell behind the wheel.

We met up with Roy Thomas for supper and a long catch-up chat at Bully's this evening, the first time for many months with me spending so much time in Spain and he in South Africa, with his new partner. He's returning there again shortly, to attend the birth of his new baby daughter, expected soon. He's a very happy man indeed.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Weekend church crawl

We headed East on the M4 yet again Friday morning, this time bound for Suffolk, to stay with weekend with Eddie and Ann in Kirton. It was an uneventful journey, which with a couple of refreshment stops took us five and a half hours. It was great to arrive and settle down with tea in the garden.

Saturday morning we drove over to Woodbridge on the Deben estuary, to inspect the tide mill, which has been restored again and re-opened since our last visit seven years ago, albeit the mill wasn't grinding grain as usual because a replacement cog was needed. The low tide view of the estuary was, as ever, interesting, with sightings of oyster-catchers, egrets, black headed gulls and a solitary curlew. 
We wandered along Woodbridge's High Street, as crowds were gathering for the local carnival procession. Four Scottish pipers were playing outside Boots'. We didn't hang around long as we didn't feel in need of crowds or excitement, so we headed out into the countryside to visit the nearby hamlet of Ufford with its fourteenth century church dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, containing what is reputed to be one of the tallest mediaeval font covers anywhere. 
As with all the churches in this region where there's so much flint in the ground, church exteriors are beautifully decorated with mosaics rendered in napped flint. 
 The weather wasn't very promising, so we headed back to Kirton for a late lunch, and avoided the threat of rain.

Sunday morning we joined the congregation of a dozen at nearby Falkenham village church for the Eucharist, and called at the local farm shop for fruit and veg on the the way back to the house. Then, we headed north to visit the seaside town of Southwold, calling on the way at Blythborough Parish Church of the Holy Trinity, known as 'The Cathedral of the Marshes' because of its size. 
It's a classic Early English building, made to feel grand as it fills with light streaming in through its many windows even on an overcast day. It has an ancient chancel screen and not too many pews enhancing its spaciousness. There's also a priest's room over the south porch, converted into an oratory chapel, and an exterior again decorated with napped flint mosaic. The building reflects the importance and prosperity of an early mediaeval mercantile town, which subsequently declined in importance and shrank back into being a village of a couple of dozen houses. 

Before continuing our journey, we had a pleasant lunch in the village pub, the White Hart Inn, overlooking the Blyth river estuary, and arriving at Southwold we parked away from the beach, which we though was bound to be busy on a weekend. Walking down a lane, familiar to Eddie and Ann, we came across a wild plum tree, laden with ripe fruit, collected to be transformed into a delicious plum crumble for supper.
Southwold boasts some beautiful golden sand, and a modest pier in good repair and well used, with an assortment of unusual attractions you can find out about here
 There must be altogether, half a mile of neat beach huts along the promenade each brightly coloured, with individual, often eccentric names. 
 There's no garish advertising or cheap coloured flashing lights. It's a resort of restrained good taste and elegance English style, and boasts some eighteenth and nineteenth century houses and shops that add to its character. 

The town's Parish Church, dedicated to St Ethelbert, is the same size layout and design as that in Blythborough, but with a larger tower. 
 Its mediaeval chancel screen boasts a dozen panels depicting the apostles, faces defaced by seventeenth century puritan iconoclasts, but otherwise undamaged. It was amazing in the same day to see two similar interesting churches in such good repair and well looked after. A credit to the communities that love and cherish their history.

The other remarkable thing about all the churches visited over the weekend is the proliferation of large carved mediaeval angels decorating their interior roofing. High up enough to escape the unwanted attention of perverse religious zealots, from whom heaven preserve us forever more.

Photos of more of the treasures we glimpsed in our travels can be found here.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Week on the move

Tuesday, Ashley and I went to Chepstow again to visit our suppliers. It was also Owain's birthday, and Clare took him for a de-stressing afternoon at her favourite spa. We met up later at his request in the city centre and had supper together at Cafe Citta in Church Street. It's a tiny Italian restaurant sandwiched in between larger shops, and serves excellent food. As there's a pizza oven in the corner of the place, the aroma of home cooking greets you as you arrive. Owain and Clare went for the fish on the menu, I had a pizza of with salami and turnip top greenery, a bit like spinach. Interesting, though not outstanding. The ice cold birra Perroni with it was very pleasant however. We then went home for the customary present giving ceremony, drank a bottle of wine and chatted together until late.

Wednesday, I celebrated the midweek Eucharist at St Catherine's, St Thomas a day ahead, and celebrated another midweek Eucharist in honour of St Thomas on Thursday morning, this time at St John's. I went from there to the office to catch up on some crime data entries, but had a call form Clare to say that Amanda's doctor was trying to get in touch to discuss her situation. She was taken in to the brand new Southmead hospital last weekend, as her slowly deteriorating physical condition was giving her difficulties in breathing. Although she's now stabilised, the doctors wanted to discuss her treatment care plan with next of kin, as it the moment she's not in the mood to discuss with them. 

As a result of the phone conversation, I abandoned work and we drove over to Southmead hospital to visit her. She's very quiet, absorbed in her own thoughts, struggling to come to terms with the creeping paralysis against which she has fought bravely for so long. Even so, her general health is good and she's not in any immediate danger. Everyone who cares for her and wants to prepare for a future of increasing infirmity will have to be patient with her until she is ready to engage with the challenge for herself, to ensure that on her terms her quality of life remains optimal.

The new hospital at Southmead is a remarkable building, with many of the qualities of an airline terminal about it, with patient check-in screens to negotiate before being directed to one's appointed destination. Unlike the last time I strayed into this building a week before it was open to the public, today it was bustling with people, with lots of helpful welcomers in brightly coloured tee shirts around to help visitors navigate their way to the correct ward. I like what they've done. It's an impressive addition to the NHS offering.

I seem to have done lots of driving this last week, and more to follow tomorrow, as we're off to East Anglia for the weekend to visit Eddie and Ann.